Monday Reads: Are We Headed For Civil War?

220104115624-january-6-riot-file-2021-super-tease

Good Morning!!

The news this morning is full of stories about corruption by Trump and his cronies; but even more horrifying, Trump himself spent the weekend ranting on Truth Social–his own social media company–and he seemed to suggest that he wants a civil war in the U.S.

Business Insider: Trump reshares post on Truth Social that appears to suggest or predict a civil war in America.

Trump re-posted a suggestion from a Truth Social user called “MAGA King Thanos,” who commented on a screenshot of a tweet from El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele.

In the tweet, Bukele wrote: “The most powerful country in the world is falling so fast, that it makes you rethink what are the real reasons. Something so big and powerful can’t be destroyed so quickly, unless the enemy comes from within.

Bukele’s remarks came in response to a Bloomberg tweet on coping with inflation in the US if one earns under $300,000 a year.

The post that Trump re-shared captured the Truth Social user’s comment on Bukele’s tweet, which read “Civil war.”

Here’s the post Trump shared:

More from Business Insider:

Bukele is El Salvador’s millennial president — a controversial figure who once switched up his Twitter bio to call himself “the coolest dictator in the world.”

Trump’s re-post was picked up on by conservative political activist George Conway, the husband of former Trump aide Kellyanne Conway.

“Nothing to see here. Just a former president of the United States sharing a social media post advocating or predicting civil war in the United States. No biggie,” he tweeted.

Trump’s comment was also swiftly rebuked by Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of Trump’s staunchest critics in the GOP.

“Any of my fellow Republicans wanna speak out now?” Kinzinger tweeted. “Or are we just wanting to get through ‘just one more election first…?”

Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell also weighed in on Trump’s post, tweeting: “Donald Trump is calling for Civil War. Of course, like Vietnam and the walk to the Insurrection, he won’t be man enough to fight it.” 

In January, Barbara F. Walter published a book called How Civil Wars Start and How to Stop Them. I believe I put something in a post about it at the time. Here are some articles from the time the book came out.

Dana Millbank at The Washington Post: ‘We are closer to civil war than any of us would like to believe,’ new study says.

A startling new finding by one of the nation’s top authorities on foreign civil wars says we are on the cusp of our own.

Barbara F. Walter, a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego, serves on a CIA advisory panel called the Political Instability Task Force that monitors countries around the world and predicts which of them are most at risk of deteriorating into violence. By law, the task force can’t assess what’s happening within the United States, but Walter, a longtime friend who has spent her career studying conflicts in Syria, Lebanon, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Rwanda, Angola, Nicaragua and elsewhere, applied the predictive techniques herself to this country.

Her bottom line: “We are closer to civil war than any of us would like to believe.” She lays out the argument in detail in her must-read book, “How Civil Wars Start,” out in January. “No one wants to believe that their beloved democracy is in decline, or headed toward war,” she writes. But, “if you were an analyst in a foreign country looking at events in America — the same way you’d look at events in Ukraine or the Ivory Coast or Venezuela — you would go down a checklist, assessing each of the conditions that make civil war likely. And what you would find is that the United States, a democracy founded more than two centuries ago, has entered very dangerous territory.”

Indeed, the United States has already gone through what the CIA identifies as the first two phases of insurgency — the “pre-insurgency” and “incipient conflict” phases — and only time will tell whether the final phase, “open insurgency,” began with the sacking of the Capitol by Donald Trump supporters on Jan. 6.

Things deteriorated so dramatically under Trump, in fact, that the United States no longer technically qualifies as a democracy. Citing the Center for Systemic Peace’s “Polity” data set — the one the CIA task force has found to be most helpful in predicting instability and violence — Walter writes that the United States is now an “anocracy,” somewhere between a democracy and an autocratic state.

Dropping five points in five years greatly increases the risk of civil war (six points in three years would qualify as “high risk” of civil war). “A partial democracy is three times as likely to experience civil war as a full democracy,” Walter writes. “A country standing on this threshold — as America is now, at +5 — can easily be pushed toward conflict through a combination of bad governance and increasingly undemocratic measures that further weaken its institutions.”

The Boston Globe published an interview with Walter by Shannon Larson: Q&A with Barbara F. Walter, author of ‘How Civil Wars Start,’ on the prospect of open civil conflict breaking out in the US.

Barbara F. Walter, a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego, has spent over three decades studying civil conflict. In her new book, “How Civil Wars Start: and How to Stop Them,” Walter examines the rise of violent extremism on a global scale and warns of the increasing likelihood of a second civil war breaking out in the United States.

“January 6, 2021 was a gift to the American people,” she tweeted on the one-year anniversary of the insurrection at the Capitol. “It made it impossible for the country to ignore or deny the cancer that has been growing out of the public eye for years. We can fix this!”

From the interview:

1) In your book, you write that the United States is “closer to civil war than any of us would like to believe.” How did you reach that conclusion?

“I’m a quantitative social scientist who studies civil wars. That means that I don’t study just one civil war in one country. I study all civil wars that have occurred over the last 80 years (and there have been over 200 of them). There has been an enormous amount of data collected by scholars on the factors that lead to civil war — so we know what things tend to put countries at greater risk of civil war.

“In addition, between 2017 and 2021, I served on the Political Instability Task Force run by the US government. The Task Force included political scientists, economists, anthropologists, and data analysts. The task of the Task Force was to put together a predictive model that would help the US government predict where around the world political instability and political violence was likely to break out. The Task Force included over 50 variables in the model — variables that the experts thought might matter, like poverty, income inequality, the ethnic diversity of a country, the size of a country, etc. Only two factors turn out to be highly predictive: anocracy and ethnic factionalism.”

2) What is an anocracy? What does it mean when a government is defined as such?

“Anocracy is a term that political scientists use for a government that is neither fully democratic nor fully autocratic, it is something in between. You can think of it as a partial democracy, weak democracy, illiberal democracy. It turns out that it is in this middle zone — between democracy and autocracy — that most civil wars occur. The second factor was whether a political faction had emerged in an anocracy that was based on ethnic, religious, or racial identity, and that faction then had the goal to gain power in order to exclude everyone else.”

3) What are some of the more notable examples in recent history demonstrating that the country is heading down the path toward a civil war?

“The US’s democracy has been weakening since 2016. It was downgraded first in 2016, then again in 2019, and then finally again after the January 6th attack on the Capitol, when it was classified as an anocracy for the first time since 1800.

“And then, one of America’s two big parties — the Republican Party — has become a faction based on race. As late as 2008, white Americans were equally likely to be a Democrat as a Republican. Today, 90 percent of the Republican Party is white, and it is doing everything possible to disenfranchise those who don’t vote Republican.” [….]

6) What would a modern civil war look like?

“The next civil war will look nothing like the last civil war. 21st-century civil wars tend to look much more like insurgencies — often fought by multiple factions, militias, and paramilitary groups — sometimes working together, sometimes competing. And they tend to use unconventional methods such as terrorism and guerilla warfare. It will look more like Northern Ireland and the 1st and 2nd intifada than Gettysburg.”

I’ve quoted quite a bit of the article, because it is behind a paywall.

This piece by Stephen Marche at The Guardian is also an important read. The next US civil war is already here – we just refuse to see it.

The United States today is, once again, headed for civil war, and, once again, it cannot bear to face it. The political problems are both structural and immediate, the crisis both longstanding and accelerating. The American political system has become so overwhelmed by anger that even the most basic tasks of government are increasingly impossible.

The legal system grows less legitimate by the day. Trust in government at all levels is in freefall, or, like Congress, with approval ratings hovering around 20%, cannot fall any lower. Right now, elected sheriffs openly promote resistance to federal authority. Right now, militias train and arm themselves in preparation for the fall of the Republic. Right now, doctrines of a radical, unachievable, messianic freedom spread across the internet, on talk radio, on cable television, in the malls.

The consequences of the breakdown of the American system is only now beginning to be felt. January 6 wasn’t a wake-up call; it was a rallying cry. The Capitol police have seen threats against members of Congress increase by 107%. Fred Upton, Republican representative from Michigan, recently shared a message he had received: “I hope you die. I hope everybody in your family dies.” And it’s not just politicians but anyone involved in the running of the electoral system. Death threats have become a standard aspect of the work life of election supervisors and school board members. A third of poll workers, in the aftermath of 2020, said they felt unsafe.

Two things are happening at the same time. Most of the American right have abandoned faith in government as such. Their politics is, increasingly, the politics of the gun. The American left is slower on the uptake, but they are starting to figure out that the system which they give the name of democracy is less deserving of the name every year.

An incipient illegitimacy crisis is under way, whoever is elected in 2022, or in 2024. According to a University of Virginia analysis of census projections, by 2040, 30% of the population will control 68% of the Senate. Eight states will contain half the population. The Senate malapportionment gives advantages overwhelmingly to white, non– college educated voters. In the near future, a Democratic candidate could win the popular vote by many millions of votes and still lose. Do the math: the federal system no longer represents the will of the American people.

The right is preparing for a breakdown of law and order, but they are also overtaking the forces of law and order. Hard right organization have now infiltrated so many police forces – the connections number in the hundreds – that they have become unreliable allies in the struggle against domestic terrorism.

I’ve focused this post on civil war, because I think this is where the Trumpists and the rest of the Republicans who cower in fear of their base are taking us. And I don’t think the Democrats are taking this seriously enough. I hope I’m wrong about that.

More stories to check out today:

The New York Times: Kushner’s and Mnuchin’s Quick Pivots to Business With the Gulf.

Crew: The Secret Service spent nearly $2 million at Trump properties.

The Guardian: Capitol attack panel to hold six public hearings as it aims to show how Trump broke law.

Just Security: Prosecuting Trump for the Insurrection: The Well-Founded Case f.or Optimism.

The Daily Beast: How Trump’s Fear of Getting Pied in the Face May Come Back to Cream Him.

The Washington Post: Russian diplomat resigns protesting Putin’s ‘aggressive war.’

The New York Times: U.S. Military Airlifts Baby Formula From Europe.

CNN: Biden says US would respond ‘militarily’ if China attacked Taiwan, but White House insists there’s no policy change.

Melissa Murray at The New York Times How the Right to Birth Control Could Be Undone.

Politico: State Democrats, abortion-rights activists ‘incredibly frustrated’ with federal inaction.

Have a nice Monday, Sky Dancers!!


Thursday Reads

Rainy Day Boston, Frederick Childe Hassam

Rainy Day Boston, Frederick Childe Hassam

Good Morning!!

Here’s what I see as the major topics in the news today: world events stemming from Russia’s war on Ukraine; the ongoing Trumpist attack on U.S. democracy; and the new wave of Covid-19 cases.

Outgrowths of Ukraine War

Fascism and totalitarianism expert Timothy Snyder at The New York Times: We Should Say It. Russia Is Fascist.

Fascism was never defeated as an idea.

As a cult of irrationality and violence, it could not be vanquished as an argument: So long as Nazi Germany seemed strong, Europeans and others were tempted. It was only on the battlefields of World War II that fascism was defeated. Now it’s back — and this time, the country fighting a fascist war of destruction is Russia. Should Russia win, fascists around the world will be comforted.

We err in limiting our fears of fascism to a certain image of Hitler and the Holocaust. Fascism was Italian in origin, popular in Romania — where fascists were Orthodox Christians who dreamed of cleansing violence — and had adherents throughout Europe (and America). In all its varieties, it was about the triumph of will over reason.

Because of that, it’s impossible to define satisfactorily. People disagree, often vehemently, over what constitutes fascism. But today’s Russia meets most of the criteria that scholars tend to apply. It has a cult around a single leader, Vladimir Putin. It has a cult of the dead, organized around World War II. It has a myth of a past golden age of imperial greatness, to be restored by a war of healing violence — the murderous war on Ukraine.

You’ll need to read the whole essay to get the full impact of Snyder’s argument, but here’s a bit more:

We understand more about fascism than we did in the 1930s. We now know where it led. We should recognize fascism, because then we know what we are dealing with. But to recognize it is not to undo it. Fascism is not a debating position, but a cult of will that emanates fiction. It is about the mystique of a man who heals the world with violence, and it will be sustained by propaganda right to the end. It can be undone only by demonstrations of the leader’s weakness. The fascist leader has to be defeated, which means that those who oppose fascism have to do what is necessary to defeat him. Only then do the myths come crashing down.

Paris Street in the rain, by Gustave Caillebotte

Paris Street in the rain, by Gustave Caillebotte

As in the 1930s, democracy is in retreat around the world and fascists have moved to make war on their neighbors. If Russia wins in Ukraine, it won’t be just the destruction of a democracy by force, though that is bad enough. It will be a demoralization for democracies everywhere. Even before the war, Russia’s friends — Marine Le Pen, Viktor Orban, Tucker Carlson — were the enemies of democracy. Fascist battlefield victories would confirm that might makes right, that reason is for the losers, that democracies must fail.

Had Ukraine not resisted, this would have been a dark spring for democrats around the world. If Ukraine does not win, we can expect decades of darkness.

The Economist: The coming food catastrophe. War is tipping a fragile world towards mass hunger. Fixing that is everyone’s business.

By invading Ukraine, Vladimir Putin will destroy the lives of people far from the battlefield—and on a scale even he may regret. The war is battering a global food system weakened by covid-19climate change and an energy shock. Ukraine’s exports of grain and oilseeds have mostly stopped and Russia’s are threatened. Together, the two countries supply 12% of traded calories. Wheat prices, up 53% since the start of the year, jumped a further 6% on May 16th, after India said it would suspend exports because of an alarming heatwave.

The widely accepted idea of a cost-of-living crisis does not begin to capture the gravity of what may lie ahead. António Guterres, the un secretary general, warned on May 18th that the coming months threaten “the spectre of a global food shortage” that could last for years. The high cost of staple foods has already raised the number of people who cannot be sure of getting enough to eat by 440m, to 1.6bn. Nearly 250m are on the brink of famine. If, as is likely, the war drags on and supplies from Russia and Ukraine are limited, hundreds of millions more people could fall into poverty. Political unrest will spread, children will be stunted and people will starve.

Mr Putin must not use food as a weapon. Shortages are not the inevitable outcome of war. World leaders should see hunger as a global problem urgently requiring a global solution.

landscape-with-rain-wassily-kandinsky

Landscape with rain, Wassily Kandinsky

Russia and Ukraine supply 28% of globally traded wheat, 29% of the barley, 15% of the maize and 75% of the sunflower oil. Russia and Ukraine contribute about half the cereals imported by Lebanon and Tunisia; for Libya and Egypt the figure is two-thirds. Ukraine’s food exports provide the calories to feed 400m people. The war is disrupting these supplies because Ukraine has mined its waters to deter an assault, and Russia is blockading the port of Odessa.

Even before the invasion the World Food Programme had warned that 2022 would be a terrible year. China, the largest wheat producer, has said that, after rains delayed planting last year, this crop may be its worst-ever. Now, in addition to the extreme temperatures in India, the world’s second-largest producer, a lack of rain threatens to sap yields in other breadbaskets, from America’s wheat belt to the Beauce region of France. The Horn of Africa is being ravaged by its worst drought in four decades. Welcome to the era of climate change.

The Trumpist Attack on U.S. Democracy

This is from The Washington Post news analysis by Leigh Ann Caldwell, Theodoric Meyer: Trump uses Pa. primary to continue effort to undermine electoral system.

Donald Trump‘s continued effort to discredit or manipulate the electoral process is playing out in two distinct but related ways in the wake of Tuesday’s primary contests in Pennsylvania.

First, he is casting doubt on the result of the Senate GOP primary by once again making baseless claims that mail-in ballots are causing problems and suggesting his preferred candidate, Mehmet Oz, should just declare victory.

“It makes it much harder for them to cheat with the ballots that they ‘just happened to find,’” Trump said, providing no evidence, on his social media platform Truth Social, our colleague Colby Itkowitz reports.

Second, the nominee he backed for governor, Doug Mastriano, won the primary and if he wins the election in November, Mastriano would have considerable influence over how the state’s presidential election results are handled in 2024 when Trump may be on the ballot as our colleague’s Rosalind S. HeldermanIsaac Arnsdorf and Josh Dawsey explain.

Mastriano has been one of the staunchest backers of Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election and the steps he wanted officials to take to deny Joe Biden victory.

Rain swept street, by Mike Barr

Rain swept street, by Mike Barr

“As governor, Mastriano would have the opportunity not just to speak, but to act,” Roz, Isaac and Josh write. A possibility that is “worrying experts already fearful of a democratic breakdown around the 2024 presidential contest.”

“Those concerns are made especially acute in Pennsylvania by the fact that the governor has the unusual authority to directly appoint the secretary of state, who serves as chief elections officer and must sign off on results. If he or she refuses, chaos could follow.”

Read more at the WaPo link.

Reid Epstein at The New York Times: Midterm Stakes Grow Clearer: Election Deniers Will Be on Many Ballots.

Republican voters in this week’s primary races demonstrated a willingness to nominate candidates who parrot Donald J. Trump’s election lies and who appear intent on exerting extraordinary political control over voting systems. The results make clear that the November midterms may well affect the fate of free and fair elections in the country.

In Pennsylvania, Republican voters united behind a nominee for governor, Doug Mastriano, who helped lead the brazen effort to overturn the state’s 2020 election and chartered buses to the rally before the Capitol riot, and who has since promoted a constitutionally impossible effort to decertify President Biden’s victory in his state.

In North Carolina, voters chose a G.O.P. Senate nominee, Representative Ted Budd, who voted in Congress against certifying the 2020 results and who continues to refuse to say that Mr. Biden was legitimately elected.

And in Idaho, which Mr. Trump won overwhelmingly in 2020, 57 percent of voters backed two Republican candidates for secretary of state who pushed election falsehoods, though they lost a three-way race to a rival who accepts Mr. Biden as president.

The strong showings on Tuesday by election deniers, who have counterparts running competitively in primaries across the country over the coming months, were an early signal of the threat posed by the Trump-inspired movement.

This story about what’s happening in Idaho was published before yesterday’s primaries, but it’s still an important read. Christopher Mathias at HuffPo: Living With The Far-Right Insurgency In Idaho.

IDAHO — White nationalist Vincent James Foxx had a new video for his nearly 70,000 subscribers on BitChute, one of the few tech platforms that hasn’t banned him. On Feb. 16, he appeared wearing a baseball hat emblazoned with the state’s outline tilted on its side so that it resembled a pistol.

“We are going to take over this state,” Foxx declared. “We have a great large group of people, and that group is growing. A true, actual right-wing takeover is happening right now in the state of Idaho. And there’s nothing that these people can do about it. So if you’re a legislator here, either get in line, or get out of the way.”

Foxx, 36, isn’t from Idaho. He only recently moved from California to Post Falls. But in the video, he showed off photos of himself posing with a string of prominent Republican politicians in the state as he explained who he’s supporting in the upcoming primaries, slated for May 17.

gregory thielker Rainy day in Washington DC

Gregory Thielker,, Rainy Day in Washington, DC

He was especially excited about a selfie he’d taken a week prior: It showed him and fellow white nationalist Dave Reilly, a recent Pennsylvania transplant also living in Post Falls, standing alongside Idaho’s lieutenant governor, Janice McGeachin. All three were smiling.

“We’re supporting her,” Foxx said, bragging of his movement’s “deep connections” to McGeachin, whom former President Donald Trump endorsed in the GOP primary race for governor. Foxx then explained how his particular brand of Christian white nationalism is poised to conquer Idaho, then the country.

“The solution is local politics: Amassing power in these pockets of the country until it’s time to unify,” he said. “I’ve only been here for a couple of months and I’m tapped in the way that I am. You can do it too.”

Fascists like Foxx are famous fabulists, experts at exaggerating their influence and success. But Foxx wasn’t just talking shit.

He is one of many far-right activists who have flocked to Idaho in recent years, where a large and growing radical MAGA faction in the state’s Republican Party has openly allied itself with extremists to a shocking extent, even for the Trump era. This faction is accruing more and more power in Boise, the state capital: Imagine a statehouse full of Marjorie Taylor Greenes and Steve Kings. At the local level, they have seized seats on school boards and county commissions at a fast clip.

Please read the rest. This could easily happening in other small states.

New Covid Wave

The Washington Post: Top Biden health officials sound warning on rising covid infections.

Top Biden administration officials warned Wednesday that one-third of Americans live in communities experiencing rising levels of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations and urged them to resume taking personal protection measures, including wearing masks.

The increase in new infections — nearing 100,000 a day — comes as the nation heads into Memorial Day weekend with its large gatherings and travel. That case count is almost certainly an undercount, officials said, given the widespread use of at-home tests for which results are often not reported to health officials.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, strongly encouraged those living in communities designated yellow or orange, indicating they have large numbers of new infections and hospitalizations, to consider wearing masks in indoor public spaces and taking other steps to protect themselves.

“As we’re currently seeing a steady rise of cases in parts of the country, we encourage everyone to use the menu of tools we have today to prevent further infection and severe disease, including wearing a mask, getting tested, accessing treatments early if infected and getting vaccinated or boosted,”she said.

Wednesday’s warnings from Walensky and two other officials — Ashish Jha, White House coronavirus coordinator, and Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser — came on the same day the United States surpassed the grim milestone of 1 million covid-19 deaths, a toll that even the starkest predictions at the start of the pandemic in 2020 did not anticipate.

In the Rain, ,Franz Marc

In the Rain, Franz Marc

Also from The Washington Post: How big is the latest U.S. coronavirus wave? No one really knows.

Experts say Americans can assume that infections in their communities are five to 10 times the official counts.

“Any sort of look at the metrics on either a local, state or national level is a severe undercount,” said Jessica Malaty Rivera, an epidemiologist at the Pandemic Prevention Institute, housed at theRockefeller Foundation. “Everyone knows someone getting covid now.”

Hospitalizations nationally have increased 57 percent since bottoming out six weeks ago. But the roughly 23,000 covid patients in hospitals over the last week still represent nearly the lowest hospitalization levels of the entire pandemic.The recentincrease is led by the Northeast, where hospitalization rates are almost twice as high as in any other region.

Reported cases of covid have also tripled in the Northeast in just over a month, driving much of the growth nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.The country has averaged about 100,000 new cases each day over the past week —more than three times as high as at the lowest point in March.

The latest uptick in infections is testing a new CDC alert system adopted by many local and state governments that categorizes community levels of covid-19 as “low” even with the number of new cases rising to a level once considered high.

More than two-thirds of Americans live in low-risk areas under these metrics. But 43 percent of residents in the Northeastlive in areas considered high-risk, compared with 9percent in the Midwest and less than 1 percent each in the South and West.

I recommend clicking the link and reading the entire article.

morning-on-the-seine-in-the-rain-1898, Claude Monet

Morning on the Seine in the rain, Claude Monet

CNBC: U.S. faces unnecessary Covid deaths if Congress fails to pass funding bill, top health official warns.

Top U.S. health officials on Wednesday reiterated their calls for Congress to pass funding for the nation’s fight against Covid-19, warning that failure to act now would result in an unnecessary loss of life in the fall and winter.

Their warning comes as new infections and hospitalizations are on the rise as the more transmissible omicron subvariants sweep the U.S.

The nation is reporting more than 94,000 new infections daily on average as of Monday, a 25% increase over the previous week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, hospitalizations have increased 18% over the past week with about 3,000 people admitted with Covid every day on average, according to CDC data.

Dr. Ashish Jha, the new White House Covid response coordinator, said the fact that many people are now taking at-home tests, results of which are not captured in the data, has to be taken into consideration.

“We know that the number of infections is actually substantially higher than that, hard to know exactly how many, but we know that a lot of people are getting diagnosed using home tests,” Jha said during a White House update on the pandemic Wednesday. “We’re clearly undercounting cases. There’s a lot of infections across America.”

Those are today’s top stories as I see it. What do you think? What stories are you following?


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

landscape Boulders-with-Meconopsis-On Tuesday in Germany—at a meeting of the “Ukraine Defense Consultative Group” (a gathering of the countries from around the world that have pledged to support Ukraine’s war effort)—Secretary Austin said it was the U.S. belief that Ukraine can win the war with Russia. Austin’s spokesperson, John Kirby, stated: “We don’t want a Russia that’s capable of exerting that kind of malign influence in Europe or anywhere in the world.”

Boulders with Meconopsos and Rhododendrons, Amanda Richardson

For years now, it’s been difficult for me to shake the feeling that I’m living in a dystopian novel. We lived through 4 years under an insane “president” who tried to destroy the post-WWII alliances that have prevented another world war. He also ignored and exacerbated a global pandemic that has now killed close to a million Americans.

I had hoped that when Trump was defeated, he would go away and leave us alone; but instead he is still spreading his poisonous lies– and the Republican Party is still kowtowing to him. Even worse, powerful Republicans like Governors Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis are building on Trump’s legacy by enabling fascist policies in their states.

Unfortunately, despite popular opinion, the pandemic is not over, we’re not dealing effectively with climate change, and we are once more living under a threat of nuclear destruction.

Recommended Reads

The Washington Post: U.S. no longer in ‘full-blown’ pandemic phase, Fauci says.

The United States is finally “out of the full-blown explosive pandemic phase” that has led to nearly 1 million deaths from covid-19 and more than two years of suffering and hardship, Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said Wednesday.

“We’re really in a transitional phase, from a deceleration of the numbers into hopefully a more controlled phase and endemicity,” Fauci told The Washington Post.

Fauci’s comments came a day after he told PBS’s “NewsHour” that he believed the country is “out of the pandemic phase,” and he expanded on, and clarified, that view Wednesday, making clear that the pandemic is not over and the United States could still see new waves of infections as the virus continues to mutate and spin off highly transmissible variants. But Fauci and other infectious-disease experts are hoping that the population has built up enough immunity from previous infections and vaccinations to avoid another devastating surge in hospitalizations and deaths.

“The world is still in a pandemic. There’s no doubt about that. Don’t anybody get any misinterpretation of that. We are still experiencing a pandemic,” Fauci said.

Huh? We’re out of the “pandemic phase,” but the pandemic is not over? 

Camille Monet and child in the artist's garden in Argenteuil, 1875 Claude Monet

Camille Monet and child in the artist’s garden in Argenteuil, 1875 Claude Monet

His comments follow a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating that roughly 3 in 5 people in the United States have already been infected by the coronavirus. About 1 in 4 people had a first-time infection during the winter wave caused by the omicron variant.

These startling numbers suggest the country has a much higher level of collective immunity than it did before omicron. What is far less clear is how long that immunity will persist, and to what extent it could be evaded by new coronavirus variants.

The omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1 is the latest version to seize the attention of public health experts. It is rapidly gaining traction, and CDC estimated Tuesday that it accounted for about 30 percent of new infections. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said preliminary estimates suggest it is about 25 percent more transmissible than the omicron subvariant BA.2, itself more transmissible than the original omicron strain.

There’s also the problem that we are not testing as much these days; and many people are self-testing at home, so the results are not being reported. Meanwhile, Fauci is concerned enough that he is not going to attend the next possible DC super spreader event:

Fauci, meanwhile, has decided against going to the swank White House Correspondents’ Association dinner Saturday, which Biden reportedly plans to attend. Fauci this month attended the Gridiron dinner, at which scores of people became infected. On Wednesday, he declined to discuss his reasoning for skipping what’s often referred to as the “nerd prom,” saying simply, “It’s just my personal choice.

The WH correspondents organization has made a disturbing decision about their event. The Washington Post: A fight over coronavirus safety at journalists’ gala event.

More than 2,000 journalists, celebrities and politicians, including President Biden, are set to descend on the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner this weekend in what is shaping up to be a major test of whether large gatherings can be safely held at this stage of the pandemic.

Organizers say they are committed to holding an event that significantly reduces the risk of coronavirus infections, pointing to vaccine and testing requirements that were strengthened after a dinner hosted by Washington’s Gridiron Club this month was linked to at least 85 infections that sickened Cabinet members, reporters and other guests.

the-way-home-peder-monsted, Danish painter

The Way Home, Peder Monsted, Danish painter

Yet some White House officials and experts worry that those measures are insufficient and that this weekend’s events may become another high-profile superspreader event, said three administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue. Behind the scenes, one prominent coronavirus expert is scrapping with party organizers hesitant to install devices that disinfect the air using ultraviolet light because of concerns the devices might interfere with the program.

Don Milton, a University of Maryland environmental scientist who has advised the White House and others on airborne transmission, said his offer to have a company install the devicesat no charge was rebuffed by both the correspondents’ association and the Washington Hilton, which is hosting the event. “I enlisted a team of scientists and germicidal UV lighting companies to provide, as a demonstration project at no cost, a temporary installation to help protect the White House correspondents’ dinner,” Milton said. “Unfortunately, it has not worked out.”

In an interview, Steve Portnoy, a CBS News reporter who serves as the WHCA’s president,said the association had put safety protocols in place and Milton’s offer came too late.

“We’re interested in learning more about this technology,” Portnoy said. “We just aren’t in a position, with less than a week to go, to more fully understand the benefits or potential risks of what appears to be an experimental technology.”

What about the “potential risks” of the president getting Covid?

The New York Times: Climate Change Will Accelerate Viral Spillovers, Study Finds.

Over the next 50 years, climate change will drive thousands of viruses to jump from one species of mammal to another, according to a study published in Nature on Thursday. The shuffling of viruses among animals may increase the risk that one will jump into humans and cause a new pandemic, the researchers said.

Scientists have long warned that a warming planet may increase the burden of diseases. Malaria, for example, is expected to spread as the mosquitoes that carry it expand their range into warming regions. But climate change might also usher in entirely new diseases, by allowing pathogens to move into new host species.

“We know that species are moving, and when they do, they’re going to have these chances to share viruses,” said Colin Carlson, a biologist at Georgetown University and a co-author of the new study.

To understand what that sharing will look like, Dr. Carlson and his colleagues built a computer model of potential spillovers in a warming world. The researchers started by projecting how thousands of mammals might shift their ranges as the climate changes between now and 2070.

As temperatures increase, many species are expected to spread away from the blazing Equator to find more comfortable habitats. Others may move up the sides of hills and mountains to find cooler altitudes. When different species come into contact for the first time, the viruses may be able to infect new hosts.

Wind from the sea, Andrew Wyeth, 1947

Wind from the sea, Andrew Wyeth, 1947

To understand the odds of a successful new infection, the researchers began by building a database of viruses and their mammalian hosts. Some viruses have been found in more than one species of mammal, which means that they must have jumped the species barrier at some point in the past.

Using a computational technique called machine learning, the researchers developed a model that could predict whether two host species share a virus.

The more that two species overlap geographically, the researchers found, the more likely they were to share a virus. That’s because the hosts were more likely to encounter each other, giving their viruses more opportunities to move between them.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Zach Beauchamp at Vox: Ron DeSantis is Viktor Orbán’s true American disciple.

In June of last year, Hungary’s far-right government passed a law cracking down on LGBTQ rights, including a provision prohibiting instruction on LGBTQ topics in sex education classes.

About nine months later, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill banning “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity” up through third grade. According to some knowledgeable observers on the right, these two bills were closely connected.

“About the Don’t Say Gay law, it was in fact modeled in part on what Hungary did last summer,” Rod Dreher, a senior editor at the American Conservative magazine, said during a panel interview in Budapest. “I was told this by a conservative reporter who … said he talked to the press secretary of Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida and she said, ‘Oh yeah, we were watching the Hungarians, so yay Hungary.’” [….]

It’s easy to see the connections between the bills — in both provisions and justifications. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán described his country’s anti-LGBTQ law as an effort to prevent gay people from preying on children; Pushaw described Florida’s law as an “anti-grooming bill” on Twitter, adding that “if you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer” — meaning a person preparing children to become targets of sexual abuse, a slur targeting LGBTQ people and their supporters that’s becoming increasingly common on the right.

There’s more:

Oak Grove, 1887, Ivan Shishkin

Oak Grove, 1887, Ivan Shishkin

This is not a one-off example. DeSantis, who has built a profile as a pugilistic culture warrior with eyes on the presidency, has steadily put together a policy agenda with strong echoes of Orbán’s governing ethos — one in which an allegedly existential cultural threat from the left justifies aggressive uses of state power against the right’s enemies.

Most recently, there was DeSantis’s crackdown on Disney’s special tax exemption; using regulatory powers to punish opposing political speech is one of Orbán’s signature moves. On issues ranging from higher education to social media to gerrymandering, DeSantis has followed a trail blazed by Orbán, turning policy into a tool for targeting outgroups while entrenching his party’s hold on power….

DeSantis’s agenda in Florida is evidence that the Republican shift in this direction is continuing, maybe even accelerating. He has shown little interest in moderation or consensus-building instead centering his governing philosophy on using policy to own the libs. While Trump may have been an ideological catalyst for the GOP’s authoritarian lurch, DeSantis is showing how it could actually be implemented in practice. The consequences for democracy in Florida, and America in general, could be dire.

There’s much more at the Vox link.

Financial Times: The return of the 20th century’s nuclear shadow.

Vladimir Putin’s willingness to threaten nuclear weapons is in one respect a good sign: it means Russia is probably losing in Ukraine. It is also a potentially catastrophic one. If Putin’s aim is to scare the west, he is failing. Nato keeps stepping up its supplies to Ukraine. The question is what he would do if he thought Russian defeat was inescapable. Putin keeps implying he knows exactly what steps he would take. Is he bluffing? It is plausible even he does not know the answer.

Either way, the genie is out of the bottle. Putin has broken a post-Cuba taboo on threatening to go nuclear. That, in itself, puts us in new territory. Without most people being aware of it, the world is entering its most dangerous period since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The majority under the age of 50 have grown up thinking the nuclear spectre is a relic of the last century. In the past few weeks, the prospect of a nuclear exchange has become the most live threat to this century’s peace.

In terms of public awareness, the debate about Putin’s language is a good example of “those who don’t know talk, and those who know don’t talk”. It is easy to think of Putin as a poker addict trying to bluster his way out of a bad bet. Eventually he must fold. US civilian and military officials suffer from no such complacency. Many have taken part in war game exercises where the use of low-yielding tactical nuclear weapons as often as not escalates to strategic nuclear exchange — doomsday, in plain English.

windmills-in-the-ukrainian-steppe-at-sunset-1862, Ivan Aivazovsky

Windmills in the Ukrainian Steppe at Sunset, 1862, Ivan Aivazovsky

If there were a 5 per cent chance of Putin detonating a battlefield nuclear weapon, the world would be at more risk than at any point in most people’s lifetimes. In the past few days, Moscow’s signalling has arguably raised the chances to one in 10. Putin described last week’s test of the Sarmat hypersonic intercontinental ballistic missile as giving the west “food for thought”, which would not sound out of place from Blofeld, the 20th-century Bond villain. On Wednesday, Putin said: “We have all the instruments for this [responding to an existential threat to Russia] — ones nobody else can boast of. And we will use them, if we have to.”

The natural response is that Joe Biden and his European counterparts have made it plain Nato will not fight in Ukraine. The west, in other words, poses no “existential threat” to Russia — its threshold for use of nuclear weapons. But that is only how the west sees it. Putin’s threats, and those of his officials, have been made in the context of claiming Russia is already at war with Nato. Russians are being told every day that they are in a fight for national survival against western-backed Nazis. This level of rhetoric exceeds anything from the cold war.

One more from David Rothkopf at The Daily Beast: Putin Must Be Stopped Once and for All.

Defending Ukraine is not enough. Defeating Russia on the battlefield is not enough. We must ensure—using every means at our disposal—that Vladimir Putin may never again commit the kinds of atrocities that have marked his two decades in power.

Fortunately, this week, it was made absolutely clear that the Biden administration recognizes that necessity and has made it a strategic centerpiece of their foreign and national security policy efforts.

On Monday, after visiting Ukraine with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.”

Although one senior U.S. official admitted to me (somewhat uneasily) that “Austin said the quiet part out loud,” it soon became clear that the U.S. was publicly willing to own the new goal of turning Russia’s unprovoked, brutal escalation of its ongoing eight-year war in Ukraine into a lasting and meaningful defeat for the Kremlin.

On Tuesday in Germany—at a meeting of the “Ukraine Defense Consultative Group” (a gathering of the countries from around the world that have pledged to support Ukraine’s war effort)—Secretary Austin said it was the U.S. belief that Ukraine can win the war with Russia. Austin’s spokesperson, John Kirby, stated: “We don’t want a Russia that’s capable of exerting that kind of malign influence in Europe or anywhere in the world.”

That’s all I have for you today. I hope the paintings help just a little bit.


Tuesday Reads: Twitter Trouble

Musk-Twitter-stake

Good Morning!!

I’m a daily user of Twitter, because it’s where I can find the very latest news, often before it’s on TV or published anywhere. Yesterday’s shock news was that Elon Musk bought Twitter and took the company private. Lots of people apparently deleted their Twitter accounts, and so many people tried to sign up for an app called “Counter Social” that the site crashed repeatedly.

I’ve briefly tried Counter Social, and so far I don’t think it will work for me. I agree with this thread:

Counter Social is owned and operated by a Twitter troll called “Jester Actual” whom I unfollowed long ago because of his weird tweets, so I’m not sure I want to use his platform. 

So I guess I’m going to stick with Twitter for now and see what happens. Obviously, I’m not happy about Twitter’s new owner either. I didn’t know that much about him until he started making noises about buying the company, but the guy seems to be a Trump-like monster. Here’s just one example from the Los Angeles Times in February: Horrific allegations of racism prompt California lawsuit against Tesla.

The N-word and other racist slurs were hurled daily at Black workers at Tesla’s California plant, delivered not just by fellow employees but also by managers and supervisors.

So says California’s civil rights agency in a lawsuit filed against the electric-vehicle maker in Alameda County Superior Court on Thursday on behalf of thousands of Black workers after a decade of complaints and a 32-month investigation.

Tesla segregated Black workers into separate areas that its employees referred to as “porch monkey stations,” “the dark side,” “the slave ship” and “the plantation,” the lawsuit alleges.

Only Black workers had to scrub floors on their hands and knees, and they were relegated to the Fremont, Calif., factory’s most difficult physical jobs, the suit states.

So says California’s civil rights agency in a lawsuit filed against the electric-vehicle maker in Alameda County Superior Court on Thursday on behalf of thousands of Black workers after a decade of complaints and a 32-month investigation.

Graffiti — including “KKK,” “Go back to Africa,” the hangman’s noose, the Confederate Flag and “F– [N-word]” — were carved into restroom walls, workplace benches and lunch tables and were slow to be erased, the lawsuit says….

The lawsuit comes in the wake of Tesla’s billionaire chief executive, Elon Musk, moving the company’s headquarters from Palo Alto to Austin, Texas, where he is building a major new assembly plant.

The state’s lawsuit suggests the relocation to a state known for looser enforcement is no coincidence, declaring it to be “another move to avoid accountability.”

Not only were Tesla’s Black workers subjected to “willful, malicious” harassment, but they were also denied promotions and paid less than other workers for the same jobs, the suit asserted. They were disciplined for infractions for which other workers were not penalized.

Read more at the LA Times.

Twitter workers are worried about what will happen now, according Elizabeth Dwoskin at The Washington Post: Twitter workers face a reality they’ve long feared: Elon Musk as owner.

Twitter employees reacted with shock and dismay Monday as a new reality sank in: Elon Musk — the world’s richest man, free speech defender and strong critic of Twitter — would be the company’s new owner.

On Twitter, in private messages and in interviews with The Washington Post,employees expressed fear about Musk’s $44 billion takeover. Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal,along with board chair Bret Taylor, held an internal town hall on Monday afternoon in which the leaders tried to assure anxious staff but offered few direct answers.A central concern was that Muskwould attempt to break down safeguards to protect everyday users that staff had built over many years, according to the interviews and tweets, as well as audio from the town hall obtained by The Post.

Some tweeted tear-filled emoji and memes of people having emotional breakdowns, while others told The Post they were too in shock to speak. At Monday’s town hall, leaders were vague in response to questions about future layoffs, changes to the company’s approach to free speech and safety, and whether the company will continue to make money from advertising.

“Totally understand that this is entertainment for some,” one employee tweeted. “But please understand that this is certainly not entertainment for me.”

“The news today is so crazy I literally forgot I have COVID,” another tweeted.

Twitter employees who have worked long and hard to stop hate speech and public health misinformation on the platform were very concerned.

In dozens of internal messages obtained by The Post, workers expressed worries that the firebrand Musk could inflict damage to the company’s culture and make it harder for people to do their jobs. Observers and misinformation researchers echoed the criticism.

The company, which is based in liberal San Francisco and has more than 5,000 employees, has spent years building a progressive corporate culture that allows employees to say just about anything they want and to live anywhere they choose. Twitter was the first company to take action against former president Donald Trump for his tweets supporting Capitol rioters on Jan. 6, 2021, and engineering teams have spent years building tools to fight spam, disinformation and hate speech under an initiative known as healthy conversations.

“I don’t know any non-engineer who works on health issues who sees how this helps,” said a Twitter employee in an interview in response to questions about Musk’s ownership, referring to the company’s health division that enforces rules against harmful content such as hate speech and misinformation. “Most find it dispiriting.”

https___cdn.cnn.com_cnnnext_dam_assets_170106113815-trump-tweeting-illustrationAccording to Politico Playbook, Republicans are freaking out at the possibility of Trump getting his Twitter account back: Republicans to Trump: Stay away from Twitter.

The news that ELON MUSK is buying Twitter has thrown Washington into a tizzy over one major question: Will DONALD TRUMP return to his old favorite social media platform and start tweeting again?

As it turns out, no one is more petrified of this than members of Trump’s own party.  

On Monday night, in a series of calls and texts with several top GOP insiders, every single one of them told us that they hoped the former president stays the hell away from Twitter, lest he sink their chances at flipping the House and Senate. Some of his allies even think that a return to his old Twitter habits could damage his own brand ahead of a possible third presidential bid in 2024.

“If I’m a Democrat, I’d pray that Elon Musk puts Trump right back on Twitter,” said one House GOP leadership aide, who asked not to be named to speak candidly. “I don’t think it costs Republicans the House, but it certainly will elevate Trump’s opinions — and is going to put Republican candidates and members back having to answer for that.”

The person added: “It’s enough to create headaches — and it’s enough to probably cost us a couple seats.”

Some may find this a rather surprising reaction, given that many Republicans have both accused Big Tech of censoring conservative voices (the former president being the most prominent example) and showered praise on the Musk takeover. But as is often the case with the GOP and all things Trump, privately, they feel very differently.\

Media reactions to Musk’s acquisition of Twitter:

Shira Ovide at The New York Times: Buying Twitter, Elon Musk Will Face Reality of His Free-Speech Talk.

A decade ago, Twitter executives, including the chief executive, Dick Costolo, declared that the social media site was the “free-speech wing of the free-speech party.” The stance meant Twitter would defend people’s ability to post whatever they wished and be heard by the world.

Since then, Twitter has been dragged into morasses over disinformation peddlers, governments’ abuse of social media to incite ethnic violence and threats by elected officials to imprison employees over tweets they didn’t like. Like Facebook, YouTube and other internet companies, Twitter was forced to morph from hard-liner on free expression to speech nanny.

Today, Twitter has pages upon pages of rules prohibiting content such as material that promotes child sexual exploitation, coordinated government propaganda, offers of counterfeit goods and tweets “wishing for someone to fall victim to a serious accident.”

The past 10 years have seen repeated confrontations between the high-minded principles of Silicon Valley’s founding generation of social media companies and the messy reality of a world in which “free speech” means different things to different people. And now Elon Musk, who on Monday struck a deal to buy Twitter for roughly $44 billion, wades directly into that fraught history….

Soon, Mr. Musk will be the one confronting the gap between an idealized view of free speech and the zillion tough decisions that must be made to let everyone have a say.

His agreement to buy Twitter puts the combative billionaire, who is also the chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX, at the white-hot center of the global free-speech debate. Mr. Musk has not been specific about his plans once he becomes Twitter’s owner, but he has bristled when the company has removed posts and barred users, and has said Twitter should be a haven for unfettered expression within the bounds of the law…..

Mr. Musk is a relative dilettante on the topic and hasn’t yet tackled the difficult trade-offs in which giving one person a voice may silence the expression of others, and in which an almost-anything-goes space for expression might be overrun with spam, nudity, propaganda from autocrats, the bullying of children and violent incitements.

Technology and culture writer Charlie Warzel at The Atlantic: The Worst-Case Scenario for Elon Musk’s Twitter. Plus: the more likely one.

Warzel posits three possibilities: 

The Dark Timeline: There is, I suppose, a world in which Musk goes wild and attempts to turn Twitter into a Truth Social/Gab/Parler free-for-all. This seems like it would have to start with a total gutting of senior leadership and the instatement of some kind of Musk loyalist regime. (I’m honestly not even sure who would qualify, though such people certainly exist!) It could involve reinstating banned accounts, particularly former president Donald Trump’s. There have been attempts to quantify exactly what Trump’s presence on a social network actually means, and what it boils down to is that his Twitter account was a megaphone for bullshit. Shortly after he was banned from Twitter last year, a social-media analysis from Zignal Labs found that “conversations about election fraud dropped from 2.5 million mentions to 688,000 mentions across several social media sites in the week after Trump was banned from Twitter.” [….]

The darkest-darkest timeline is the one where the world’s richest man runs a communications platform in a truly vengeful, dictatorial way, which involves Musk outright using Twitter as a political tool to promote extreme right-wing agendas and to punish what he calls brain-poisoned liberals. This is the scenario I’ve seen some privacy folks worrying about. (What might Musk do with all of the private data the company collects, including our non-encrypted DMs?) This nightmare unfolding is easy enough to imagine, but it would probably trigger a revolt from existing employees, who would need to be replaced by people who share Musk’s values.

The Weird/Chaotic Timeline: This is the one where Musk remains invested and interested in doing experimental things with his new platform. The most cited example is an edit button, which he could introduce to the delight of some and the groaning of many others. A Musk-owned Twitter could introduce this feature carefully, study how it changes the platform, and tweak it accordingly—or it could move fast and break things by tossing it onto the platform and simply seeing what happens. The break-things ethos is the one I think about most when considering a Musk-owned Twitter—lots of quick building, throwing shit at the wall, with very little consideration of the consequences. [….]

The Recent Past Is Future Timeline: When it comes to content moderation, Elon Musk doesn’t know what he’s talking about. (For an explainer, read Mike Masnick’s excellent piece from last week.) A number of the changes that Musk has suggested are things Twitter has already attempted to do, or even implemented. I strongly believe that Musk has thought about Twitter as a service only as it relates to his user experience—which is, to say the least, a unique one. As one former senior Twitter employee put it to me this morning, Musk’s musings about improvements to the service are mostly “highly solipsistic things that are only about his experience of the product as a user with 80 million followers and a consent decree with the SEC.”

And so, owning Twitter may prove to be a boring logistical nightmare for Musk—one he might offload onto underlings while directing his attention to things that interest him. He’d still come in for the culture warring and the trolling—I’m sure he’s delighted by the notion that his every missive will carry the new weight and context of coming from Twitter’s Keeper. The thing Musk might ultimately enjoy most about owning Twitter is the ability to attract more and more attention to his potential power. 

 

One more from Tim Miller at The Bulwark: Musk Twitter Could Be a Disaster For MAGA Grifters and Republican Ostriches.

While concerns about the Russian bots and blarmy bigots returning to the hellfeed where news happens does have merit, let me offer a countervailing perspective about the impact of the Twitter acquisition.

Musk Twitter might also be a disaster for a couple of groups who cosmically deserve it:

1) Mitch McConnell and the establishment Republican ostriches who are doing everything in their power to put their heads in the sand and pretend Donald Trump doesn’t exist (unless they need to cash in on his name and likeness).

2) The Nazi grifters who started the various Deploratwitter knockoffs like TRUTH, Parler, and Gettr and are now set to be totally pwned by Twitter offering these very fine people the same freedom to shitpost in front of bigger audiences.

So if the two-faced Trumpists and the worst MAGA scammers are going to suffer, might we consider squeaking out one cheer for Musk. Or a half a cheer? Or even just a mild affirmative grunt?

The case for their suffering is as follows:

In Georgia on Insurrection Eve, we saw how a big Trump megaphone could divide the Republican base, resulting in political success for the Democrats. The election fraud mass formation psychosis led Trump voters in rural parts of the state to stay home rather than participate in yet another RIGGED contest while a small percentage of Atlanta Kemp/Raffensperger Republicans refused to be a party to the anti-democratic horror show. As a result, Georgia elected the state’s first black and Jewish senators—on the same day!—despite the fact that both had fewer votes than their GOP opponents during the November election.

A repeat of that is the worst-case scenario for the GOP at a time when the political environment is looking rather rosy for them.

Back in January, Bloomberg’s Joshua Green interviewed experts on the possible ways Republicans could screw the pooch in the midterms. Liam Donovan offered this hypothetical: “For the last year Trump has been in a straitjacket where he can’t harm his own party . . . Maybe he gets back on Twitter, there’s no bigger wild card than letting the tiger out of its cage.”

I know there is lots of other news out there. I’ll post some links in the comment thread and I hope you will too.


Tuesday Reads: When Will There Be Good News?

Tuesday Morning Rant:

1d810814-7c26-4a14-b67b-00ac04998422Once again,  I’ve reached the point where I can’t bring myself to watch the news on TV. I check Twitter a few times a day and end up frightened and depressed. On the days I write posts, I read a number of articles, but then I need hours of down time to decompress. When will there be some good news for those of us who want the U.S. to be a democracy?

When will Democratic leaders understand that we are facing the strong possibility of losing the House and Senate in November? When will the House January 6 Committee begin the promised public hearings? When will the Justice Department prosecute the powerful people who planned the Capitol insurrection?

How can the pandemic end when the GOP has become the party of removing all restrictions designed to reduce the spread of the virus?

And that’s just the domestic situation. When will the U.S. and NATO deal with Putin’s genocide in Ukraine? When will they face the fact that the genocide continues, no matter how many weapons we provide?

I don’t know the answers to these questions; I only know that, in terms of democracy, our country has been losing ground since 2016 and–even with a Democratic president–we are still in grave danger from Trump and his GOP sycophants who are still trying to overturn the 2020 election.

From yesterday’s New York Times: Trump Allies Continue Legal Drive to Erase His Loss, Stoking Election Doubts.

In statehouses and courtrooms across the country, as well as on right-wing news outlets, allies of Mr. Trump — including the lawyer John Eastman — are pressing for states to pass resolutions rescinding Electoral College votes for President Biden and to bring lawsuits that seek to prove baseless claims of large-scale voter fraud. Some of those allies are casting their work as a precursor to reinstating the former president.

The efforts have failed to change any statewide outcomes or uncover mass election fraud. Legal experts dismiss them as preposterous, noting that there is no plausible scenario under the Constitution for returning Mr. Trump to office.

John Eastman

John Eastman

But just as Mr. Eastman’s original plan to use Congress’s final count of electoral votes on Jan. 6, 2021, to overturn the election was seen as far-fetched in the run-up to the deadly Capitol riot, the continued efforts are fueling a false narrative that has resonated with Mr. Trump’s supporters and stoked their grievances. They are keeping alive the same combustible stew of conspiracy theory and misinformation that threatens to undermine faith in democracy by nurturing the lie that the election was corrupt.

The efforts have fed a cottage industry of podcasts and television appearances centered around not only false claims of widespread election fraud in 2020, but the notion that the results can still be altered after the fact — and Mr. Trump returned to power, an idea that he continues to push privately as he looks toward a probable re-election run in 2024.

Democrats and some Republicans have raised deep concerns about the impact of the decertification efforts. They warn of unintended consequences, including the potential to incite violence of the sort that erupted on Jan. 6, when a mob of Mr. Trump’s supporters — convinced that he could still be declared the winner of the 2020 election — stormed the Capitol. Legal experts worry that the focus on decertifying the last election could pave the way for more aggressive — and earlier — legislative intervention the next time around.

The article quotes Michael Luttig, a prominent conservative lawyer who was consulted by Mike Pence when Trump was pushing him to refuse to certify the 2020 Electoral College results:

“At the moment, there is no other way to say it: This is the clearest and most present danger to our democracy,” said J. Michael Luttig, a leading conservative lawyer and former appeals court judge, for whom Mr. Eastman clerked and whom President George W. Bush considered as a nominee to be the chief justice of the United States. “Trump and his supporters in Congress and in the states are preparing now to lay the groundwork to overturn the election in 2024 were Trump, or his designee, to lose the vote for the presidency.”

Eastman’s latest effort in Wisconsin:

And then there’s this:

A former lawyer for Donald Trump has claimed attorney-client privilege over 37,000 pages of emails related to his dealings with the then-president, he revealed in a court filing Monday night. John Eastman, known for penning a memo outlining how Team Trump might overturn the 2020 election, was ordered by a judge in January to review and turn over more than 90,000 pages of emails to the House select panel probing the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. After reviewing a reported 1,000 to 1,500 pages per day for three months, Eastman made no claims over 25,000 other records, according to Politico. However, after his Monday filing, the House committee said it objected to “every claim” of privilege. All 37,000 pages will now be sent to U.S. District Judge David Carter, who in March called Eastman and Trump’s post-election activities “a coup in search of a legal theory,” for him to rule individually on each of them.

Fortunately, Judge Carter is unlikely to have any sympathy for Eastman and his privilege claims. Read Kyle Cheney’s original story at Politico: Eastman shielding 37,000 pages of Trump-related email from Jan. 6 committee.

More January 6 news from Raw Story: GOP’s Ronny Jackson may have been communicating with Oath Keepers during Jan. 6 riot: court documents.

Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX) may have been in contact with Oath Keepers members during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

A newly released trove of text messages shows members of the right-wing militia discussing security for some top Donald Trump allies ahead of the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s election win, and Oath Keepers co-founder Stewart Rhodes asked an associate for Jackson’s cell phone number, reported Politico.

“Dr. Ronnie Jackson — on the move,” wrote an unidentified person. “Needs protection. If anyone inside cover him. He has critical data to protect.”

“Help with what?” Rhodes replied. “Give him my cell.” [….]

Kelly Meggs, an Oath Keepers member among six indicted on seditious conspiracy charges, mentioned on Jan. 3, 2021, that allies had discussed militia members “on the call with congressmen” and “wanted to say thank you all for providing and protecting us.”

What kind of data was Jackson trying to “protect?”

In pandemic news, yesterday a Trump-appointed judge struck down the mask mandate for airline passengers and crew.

Lawrence O. Gostin at The Daily Beast: Trump’s Worst Judge Just Made Travel a MAGA Nightmare.

The coronavirus pandemic may feel like a past-tense phenomenon for many Americans, even though the dangers are real and ongoing. But a federal judge appointed by Donald Trump just did everything she could to send the nation back into chaos.

On Monday, Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Florida threw out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mask mandate for air travel and other forms of mass transportation. Deaths from COVID-19—and the mask mandates intended to prevent them—may be on the wane nationwide, but whatever you think about such policies, this is the latest and most egregious example of a judge acting as a partisan warrior in the COVID-19 culture wars.

Mizelle was appointed to the federal bench by President Trump in 2020. She was 33, and had been practicing law for only 8 years. She had never tried a case as a lead attorney. The Senate confirmed her even though the American Bar Association gave her a rating of “not qualified.” This nominee should have been rejected by the Senate not because of her judicial philosophy and not because of her age, but because she simply didn’t have the credentials and experience to be a federal judge with lifetime tenure.

Now she is substituting her opinion for that of scientific professionals at the CDC, and dictating health policy in America. The outcome could be disastrous, only serving to further embolden the right-wing activists who dispute the reality of this horrifically lethal pandemic.

Click the link to read the rest.

This could be a bit of good news:

The Washington Post: Infowars, run by Alex Jones, files for bankruptcy protection.

The conspiracy website Infowars has filed for bankruptcy protection as founder Alex Jones faces multiple defamation lawsuits tied to his false claims that the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a “giant hoax.”

According to documents filed Sunday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas, three companies owned by Jones are seeking Chapter 11 protection, which would put civil litigation on hold while they restructure their finances.

Jones is being sued by the families of several victims of the 2012 attack that left 26 people dead, including 20 young children, in Newtown, in western Connecticut. It remains the deadliest elementary school shooting in U.S. history. The 20-year-old gunman died by suicide.

But Jones falsely claimed the massacre was fabricated by gun control advocates and the mainstream media, who he said pursued a “false flag” operation staged by “crisis actors.”

The families accused him of grifting off those false claims while defaming their loved ones. Some said they were harassed and threatened after Jones ran online segments accusing them of being a part of a hoax, with one receiving hate mail referencing the Second Amendment, according to a 2018 CBS news segment. They rejected settlement offers from Jones….

Jones has been found liable in two separate cases, one in Texas, where he and Infowars are based, and another in Connecticut where the mass shooting occurred. Damages have not yet been decided in either case, but an initial amount of $725,000 has been paid into a bankruptcy trust managed by two retired judges, court records show, with an expected $2 million to be funded at a later date. The Texas court is expected to determine damages first, with jury selection scheduled for April 25.

Or maybe not so good news?

Finally, I’ll share just one Ukraine story from David Rothkopf at The Daily Beast: Even if Russia Uses a Nuke, We Probably Won’t—but Putin Would Still Pay Dearly.

If Russia were to use a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine it would, as CIA Director William Burns put it in public remarks last week, “change the world in a flash.” It might not, however, according to several experts, result in the direct military involvement of the west or a broader nuclear war.

That is not to say that such an attack would not produce devastating consequences beyond those related to the attack itself. There are a wide range of options that NATO would consider—many of which would produce lasting, disastrous consequences for Russia. Further, there is a clear sense among current and former U.S. government officials that Western leaders’ disinclination to take the bait and trigger a global war would and should be seen as a sign of strength. Finally, for all these reasons, such an act of Russian desperation is likely to be yet another huge miscalculation on the part of Vladimir Putin.

Although nuclear weapons have not been used since the American attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the late summer of 1945, concerns about their use are higher than they have been in decades. CIA Director Burns, in remarks at the Georgia Institute of Technology last Thursday, said, “Given the potential desperation of President Putin and the Russian leadership…none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons.” On Friday, Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy echoed this warning saying that the international community should be concerned about Russian use of nuclear or chemical weapons, saying, “We should… not be afraid but be ready.”

Senior U.S. officials with whom I spoke emphasized that Burns was not basing his comments on any new intelligence or other evidence that Russia was preparing to use nuclear weapons, but rather on a prudent analysis of Russia’s situation. They mentioned that Russian doctrine had a “lower threshold” for the use of nuclear weapons than other nations, but that it was “still pretty high.” According to that doctrine, there were two kinds of events that would warrant consideration of the use of nuclear weapons. One was if the Russian military was facing a massive defeat that threatened its ability to further defend its country. The other was if there was a direct threat to the regime in Moscow.

Read the rest at the Daily Beast link.

That’s it for me today. Now I need to decompress with an escapist novel. I hope you are all well and taking care not to overdose on the news.